"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The revival of Latin

The Economist

Resurrexit vere

A dead language is alive and kicking online and on the airwaves

From the print edition

WHEN Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February he used Latin, giving a scoop to Giovanna Chirri, the only journalist present who understood his words. That was a timely reminder of Latin’s unlikely survival—and revival—as a living language. Radio Bremen, a German station, has broadcast a weekly news roundup called Nuntii Latini Septimanales since 2001. Finland’s YLE Radio 1 has run a similar show since 1989, with listeners in over 80 countries.

Twitter’s 140-character epigraphs and aphorisms are ideal for Latin: five words can often say more than ten English ones, notes David Butterfield, a Latinist at the University of Cambridge. Tweets also leave no room for troublesome long subordinate clauses. The Pontifex Latin account has gained 132,000 followers since Benedict XVI started it in January. It is run by the Vatican’s Office of Latin Letters—perhaps the only modern workplace where the language of Virgil is still the lingua franca.

Monsignor Daniel Gallagher, one of its seven Secretaries, speaks of the “fun” of writing tweets such as “Plures hodie comparent rerum species falsae. Verum fideles si videri ipsi cupiunt christiani, dubitare haud debent contra aquam remigare.” (“Many false idols are held up today. For Christians to be faithful, they can’t be afraid to row against the current”.) The English version, he says, loses a neat allusion to one of Seneca’s letters.

But stretching ancient vocabulary to describe modern phenomena requires ingenuity (see table). Radio Bremen’s coinages include autocinetum electricum for electric car. The Latin Wikipedia takes a strict “Noli fingere” (don’t coin) attitude towards neologisms for its 94,000 articles, which range from iPods to volleyball; it relies on the Vatican dictionary as one of its sources. Google Translate is of limited help. Launched with a blog post (in Latin) in 2010, the software draws on translations of classical texts: good for stories of the Gallic Wars, less so for newscasts. Google says traffic for Latin translations is higher than for Esperanto.

Like Google, Facebook offers users a Latin-language setting, replete with “Mihi placet” for “like” and “Quid in animo tuo est?” for “What’s on your mind?” Farther up the slopes of Parnassus is Schola, a Latin-only social-networking site created in 2008;Ephemeris, an online Latin newspaper started by a Polish journalist in 2004, has contributors in Colombia, Germany, Chile and America. Floreat!

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